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Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: Rooney: "Eureka"

In 2003, Rooney's self-titled debut hit me at just the right time in my life.  A nineteen-year-old in the midst of my first summer back home, Rooney's songs just resonated with me in a way that very few albums ever have.  The album has remained on my rotation every summer, literally soundtracking the years' hottest months with smooth, beach-rocky goodness and eventually earned the #40 spot on my "Best of the Decade" list.  I loved everything about it.  The band's second effort, Calling the World, was a less-focused but equally entertaining album.  And so it is with a bit of sadness that must label Rooney's third LP as a complete disappointment.

Rooney's strength has always been their ability as a band to blend modern rock sounds with the older, more established sounds of the 60s and 70s.  They continue this trend on Eureka, and yet there's something missing here.  That thing is 'heart.'  I'd be lying if I said that Rooney's music never seemed a bit plastic, but here they seem to just be going through the motions.  The catchy, pop-rock is still there, but Robert Schwartzman's once-infectious, passionate vocal exclamations are long gone; replaced with vocals that sound good, sure, but far from notable.  Even his lyrical talent seems to be waning.

"Stars and Stripes" is the song on Eureka that best captures this criticism.  On the surface, it's a poppy song with tight instrumentation and decent vocals.  But Shwartzman's lyrics come off as a poor-man's version of "Lean on Me."  He sings, "It's gonna take the world to change. It's time to start helping each other.  There's nobody left to take the blame.  We're all gonna have to take it together."  Yeah, yeah, we get it; but sing it with some conviction, and maybe we'll latch on to that idea.  Even the harmonies on this song are completely uninspiring!  "Not in My House" is a pretty poor effort as well, sounding somewhere in between "War Pigs," "Icky Thump" and Fountains of Wayne.  Actually, the Fountains of Wayne comparison might not be so far off album-wise; which, by the way, is bad.

Ok, so I'm clearly not the biggest fan of Eureka, but my critique is not without a few concessions.  For starters, it's good to hear modern rock that doesn't pander to the bottom feeders of society.  Even when they come off as a less-authentic version of themselves, Rooney can be a lot of fun to listen to, or to put on at the start of a long drive.  Songs like "Don't Look at Me" or "I Can't Get Enough" seem to capture some of the magic that the band has seemingly lost over the years, which is both refreshing and encouraging.  But these are bright spots on an otherwise un-notable album.  While the band still has the talent and sound to be occasionally entertaining, they've created a lackluster record that doesn't really give me a reason to play it over any of their older stuff.  Speaking of which, it's pretty hot outside.  I may want to go throw some on!

Key Tracks:
1. "I Can't Get Enough"
2. "Only Friend"
3. "Into the Blue"
4. "Don't Look at Me"

5 out of 10 Stars

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Free Press Summerfest 2010 (Day Two)

We arrived in downtown Houston during one of the worst rainstorms I've seen in the last several months.  About half a mile down the road was the entrance to the festival; in between, several thousand gallons of water falling from the sky.  Thank god for that plastic tablecloth that we just so happened to find in the trunk of the car.  It was not only a makeshift group umbrella, but a cape, and later, a place to sit on the muddy, slick hill facing the stage in Eleanor Tinsley Park.  Today was going to be an awesome day whether the weather wanted it to be or not.  My only goal was to get a quality seat at the main stage and enjoy myself.  And I did.

Stars has been on my live band bucket list for years now, and the opportunity to see them live was just as awesome as I had always hoped!  I had read a few months back that this tour would be filled with mostly new songs, and a few old ones thrown in.  Fortunately, Stars reached deep into their catalogue of pop hits and played their best for the crowd!  "Reunion," "Elevator Love Song," "Your Ex-Lover is Dead," "Midnight Coward;" pretty much every song that any Stars fan has ever loved was played.  And guess what?  They all sound amazing!  Perfect, in fact!

Stars put on a show that was better than I could have anticipated, and from what I could tell, everyone seemed to enjoy them as well.  Their album is due out soon, so check it out when it drops.  The new songs don't sound half bad.

Slim  Thug & Bun B
Alright, so it sort of goes without saying that I'm not the biggest fan of rap music.  But having grown up in Houston, I do have a soft spot for the kind of rap that these guys put out.  And I'll be damned, Slim Thug actually has quite the stage presence, and is kind of fun to watch live!  Seeing a sea of people bounce their heads and do that one-arm, in-tempo thing (kind of like a nazi-salute bouncing up and down), is a cool sight to behold.  On the other hand though, if all you need to do to perform live as a rapper is play your entire song (WITH vocal tracks) and then rap over it, sign me up!

The Flaming Lips
No surprise here, but The Flaming Lips are straight AWESOME live!  I've said it numerous times on this blog before, but for those who may be reading for the first time, I'll reiterate: they put on the best live show you'll ever see!  Seeing the Lips live is like being at a really huge party hosted by the nicest guys on the planet!  This is the third time I've had the good fortune of seeing the band perform live, but it was the first time that I've seen them from a distance (read:  not at the front of the venue being blasted with noise).

It may have been my favorite performance that I've yet seen from them!  They sounded absolutely stunning, and even Wayne Coyne's typically grating voice wasn't all that bad!  It's been 10 years since the band last played Houston.  Welcome back guys!

Final Thoughts
Listen, Houston isn't exactly known for its music scene, so Free Press Houston has had its hands full the last two years trying to remedy that situation.  If this year's lineup is indicative of a coming trend, I welcome it with open arms.  Last year's lineup wasn't half bad, and this year's was better.  Hopefully the hardworking people that made this festival happen can make it even more solid next year!
So yeah, the music lineup wasn't all awesome, but the actual experience of Summerfest is great!  The people are absolutely wonderful (rain or shine or mud), the volunteer staff were helpful in all situations, and portapotties were widely available and, more often than not, clean.  My only concern is that the festival is quickly outgrowing the confines of Eleanor Tinsley Park and the rest of Houston may not be as receptive to such a wild, weekend party.  But this weekend was an absolute blast, and I'd like to personally thank the hundreds of people that made everything run so smoothly for all of us in attendance.

See ya' next year!

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Free Press Summerfest 2010 (Day One)

So when you live in Houston, the live music scene pretty much consists of DJ sets, awful rap, and god awful metal bands.  Today's  lineup at Summerfest had all of this, and more.  Not all of it was awful.  Some of it was.

Perseph One

We arrived at Eleanor Tinsley Park just before 5pm, so we missed a lot of the earlier bands that went on (sorry, The Eastern year?).  I headed over to the stage and caught the majority of Perseph One's set.  Perseph One (like Persephone...get it?) is like a female Zach de la Rocha, but instead of rapping about social injustice, most of the lyrics I got were about girls in pumps and "dick ladders."  It wasn't half bad really, and you can listen to some of the stuff on her myspace page.

Sugar and Gold
So after that, we headed all the way across the grounds to the Dos Equis stage and checked out Sugar and Gold, a pop band from California.  Now I won't just come out and admit to loving this band, but they did have some admirable qualities.  Their songs were all pretty danceable, and some of the synth and guitar work was catchy as hell.  Lyrically, it was a little brain dead, but that helped with the vibe they were trying to give off.

I make music on the side, and while what I make doesn't sound exactly like this, it's definitely along the same lines.  So I got some good ideas from the band, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future.  As long as they don't go all 3OH!3 on us, we should be fine.  You can purchase their latest, Get Wet! from

Ra Ra Riot
Ahh...finally a band I've heard of.  I feel bad for Ra Ra Riot, because although they were one of the biggest bands on today's lineup, they went on 3 hours before the headliner and were only allowed a 30 minute set.  Seems kind of a waste to come all the way out for that.  But the band soldiered on (despite some initial sound issues) and played an awesome set.  Sadly, an emergency situation in my group forced me to miss a lot, but I was able to hear the band play "Can You Tell," which I know better as "Can You Discover?" from Discovery's LP. That was a nice touch that I really enjoyed.  The band was the best act that I saw today.  Easily.
Ra Ra Riot has a new album coming out in August apparently, so be on the look out for that one.  I'm totally psyched for it now.

Kid Sister
Shit....just absolute bullshit.

Detroit Cobras
I had heard some good buzz about this band prior to the show, so I was excited to see what they were all about.  Unfortunately Detroit Cobras are a really bad cover band, or at least they sound like one (I think they ARE an actual cover band though.  How did they get this booking?

Girl Talk
Girl Talk was headlining the festival today, and even though I'm not really a big fan of the "music," I was excited to see what their show would be like.  Watching a bunch of people fill the stage and have a dance party, separate from the giant dance party in the crowd was a cool thing to experience for all of 15 minutes.  I left early because sometimes I enjoy original music.  Note to Houston Free Press.

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